Reviews

With this new book, L. Chvyr’ carries on her ethnographic study of the Uighurs.  After a survey of their history from the first millennium CE till nowadays (in passing, this introductory chapter presumes a highly controversial chronological continuity), the volume describes at length family religious rituals (pp. 49-117), then male communal practices (pp. 118-142).  The reader will find interesting elements on qiriq/chillä (the children’s first forty days of life) celebrations, name-giving customs, propitiatory practices and circumcision rites (sünnät toyi).  As for male adults, the section indeed stresses the central role of the mäshräp.  The third chapter (pp. 143-168) deals with Islamic Shamanism.  Aside from some details on demonology, this part describes Shamanic rituals such as puppets (qonchaq) manipulations or healing music and dance performances (oyon).  The fourth section (pp. 169-209) considers mazar culture among the Uighurs from three viewpoints: the historical role of Sufis (the Khwajas in particular), the geographical distribution of shrines, and the religious festivals organised on them.  All along the book, the author does not merely compile Western or Russian ethnographic materials but adds her own field data; her choice of continuous comparison with Central Asian materials is a noteworthy quality of the book.  Yet one can regret the absence of Uighur publications (at least, the classical Uyghur Etnografisi by Abdurähim Häbibulla could have been mentioned) and of any fieldwork in Xinjiang Autonomous Region—which is quite understandable.  More disputable is, I believe, the last, theoretical chapter (pp. 210-250) on ‘syncretism’ and ‘ethnicity’.  Although pre-Islamic elements are obvious in Uighur ‘popular Islam’ (this last concept should be carefully used as well), such a ‘symbiosis’—to use the author’s terminology—is not limited to Central Asia and affects all parts of the world of Islam.  Therefore, such a religious phenomenon can hardly be considered a key feature for demonstrating the “cultural unity of the sedentary population of Turkistan (kul’turnoe edinsvto osednykh Turkestantsev)”.

Alexandre Papas, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-5.3.E-503